Wednesday 26 February 2020

Apparition (USA 2019: Dir Waymon Boone)

Apparently one of the last theatrical releases of the 2010s (at least in the US anyway - it's gone straight to VOD in the UK), Christian director Boone's latest is a clunky and rather tasteless piece that claims it's based on a true story.

Well the 'true' part comes from Apparition's location, in that most notorious of American institutions, the Preston School of Industry, also known as Preston Castle. For the uninitiated, this was an infamous Californian reform school whose former wards included Neale Cassady and Merle Haggard, which closed its doors in 2011. In the film's prologue a young boy, Jeremy, is sent there after being accused of killing his mother (he didn't). He's identified as a troublemaker by head sadist Warden White and his gang of cronies, and has one of his fingers sliced off as part of his punishment. The only chink of light in his awful existence is kindly Anna (Mena Suvari, and no I don't know where your career has gone either) who was an actual figure from the Castle's history - the head housekeeper in the institution - who mysteriously met her death (in the movie she's given a backstory as the put upon wife of White, with a secret child). White's grasp of the law and concepts of fairness is fairly shaky, and when he kills Jeremy for whining one too many times, the staff draw a tight guard around each other for protection.

Twenty years later the grown up child of the warden, Derek, is due to marry fiance Skylar, and a group of friends are gathered at the rehearsal dinner. Warden White's other son Sam is a computer nerd (is there any other kind?) who has perfected an app that fuses GPS technology with the dark web, to produce a tool that lets people contact their dear departed and travel to the location where contact is strongest. The group of friends, who include sons and daughters of the Castle's original staff (who are still in contact to keep close ranks against the discovery of their murky past) try the app out, and before you know it it's taken them to a certain location...

Boone isn't the first filmmaker who has used the actual Preston Castle as the setting for a horror movie - 2014's A Haunting at Preston Castle got there first. Fans of good taste may raise an eyebrow or three at using for entertainment purposes a location noted for the meting out of serious mental (and possibly physical) torture, but it's an impressive pile nevertheless, and its already distressed state is a bit of a gift for a low budget filmmaker.

While the app device initially looks a clever idea - its name is 'APP-arition', don't you know - any possibilities are squandered, as its only purpose is to get a group of teens walking round and round an abandoned building. And Boone's movie is PG-13 by the numbers: prologue; brief characterisation; horny teen couple; people making stupid decisions not to stick together; chasing and screaming with not much going on; shuffling vaguely demonic figures. You get the idea.

Why does film after film get made following the same formula? Well I have a theory, and it's related to my first sentence. People don't watch things like this at the cinema anymore; they catch them at home on their TVs, laptops, phones and maybe soon their watches. People don't need to immerse themselves in clever stories, complex characterisations and directorial twiddly bits. They want to know what's going to happen and when, so they can watch films like this when doing other things at the same time, and they're happy to watch lots of them. The company will have already secured a streaming deal - I don't think they're too fussed how many people actually watch it. But consider this: in fifty years time, I'm guessing people will rerun Apparition and think it just a quaint old movie, and comment on how old fashioned the kids are in it. And I ask you, I ask you, just what will the genre viewing benchmark be then?

Apparition is available on digital download now.

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